By Tonnie Iredia
Exactly one week ago, the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) decorated Governor Musa Kwankwaso of Kano State as the best Nigerian Governor in the area of Fiscal Responsibility- a concept which refers to openness, discipline and accountability in governance. This writer was proud to serve as guest speaker on the occasion because it was a remarkable award that was specific, credible and indeed verifiable. It was obviously not purchased like the ones that are given to those who had donated huge sums to the issuing body. In the case of Kwankwaso, the several memorable developments in Kano State for which he was honoured are exceedingly persuasive. What are these developments and what challenges do they pose to other State Governors?
First, Governor Kwankwaso converted Kano State into a viable entity by raising its internally generated revenue from N400million naira to N2billion monthly. He then blocked all leakages so that funds in the treasury are always available to be prudently managed to attain fiscal responsibility.
As a matter of fact, many states have as much funds as they have leakage sources. One major source is government house. As Kwankwaso would testify, a saving of N500million every month has been achieved in Kano through abolition of frivolous expenditures hitherto incurred in the offices of the governor and his deputy as well as in the state bureaucracy. This should challenge other governors to embrace self-help and reduce dependence on federal allocations. However, aggressive revenue drive must be handled with a human face; not what we see across the board these days where people are made to pay multiple taxes for no service.
Second, as a democrat, Kwankwaso believes that a political leader should give an account of whatever he does to the people who elected him into office. Consequently, everything including any expense on security is accounted for in Kano State because Kwankwaso sees security vote as “an avenue for stealing”. The NUJ honoured the governor not only for his strong belief in accountability but also because he concentrates on the real needs of his people and not on frivolities. Hence, education-the key to human capital development has since 2011received a lion share of the annual budget of the state.
Oh yes, with 300 computer schools, an aggressive adult literacy scheme, primary schools with boarding facilities, free food for students 5times a week, provision of uniforms, desks and multifarious instructional materials, training of 100 Pilots, monthly allowance for medical students and soft loan scheme for teachers, Kwankwaso appears set to attain for his state, his target of 100% literacy on or before 2015.
Rather than focus on such people oriented programmes, some governors go for grandiose self-fulfilling projects like building new government houses notwithstanding that there was nothing wrong with the mansion where the immediate past governor lived. Others collude with their wives to siphon public funds to some illegal ventures like the one called the office of the first lady which is unknown to the Nigerian constitution
Third, transparency in governance is premised on open government. Kano is a model here because anyone who cares to know about any government project does not have to labour to get the details as the government publishes such details in the media every week. This is a challenge to states whose governors manipulate the execution of public projects. In such states, the value of projects is hardly known. The other day, a contractor reportedly got a job in one state to tar a road at N400m per kilometre. Again, no one gets to know when bids for government projects are purportedly publicised; the contractor who won, how and why he won is also never known. At the same time, the job hardly ends without a variation in its cost, so much so that in the end many jobs are executed with at least twice the real amount needed. Unfortunately, many people do not get to know how much certain projects consumed in some states. As a result, they hail governors who commission projects which in actual fact were a rip off.
Fourth, one of the attributes of fiscal responsibility is wise spending. This cannot happen in states whose recurrent estimates are higher than capital allocation. In such states, government merely meets personnel emolument while development projects on substantive issues like education, health and agriculture are virtually ignored. In the case of Kano, the 2013 budget merely allocated 25 % only to recurrent expenditure while it wisely reserved 75% for development projects. It is therefore not surprising that Kwankwaso has successfully established 3 new cities -Kwankwasiyya, Amana and Bandirawo.
This has no doubt enhanced even development in the state. In some other states, governors waste ample resources on existing urban centres. In some cases, they focus on demolition of so called illegal structures that were earlier approved by government just because they want to straighten and widen the same roads that their predecessors had earlier experimented upon. How then can the state grow?
In Kano, even development is the key word as 5kms of roads were recently dualized and electrified in each of the 44 local government areas in the state. Each of the said local government areas also has one Technical School, one School of Islamic Studies, one Garment Industry and one Micro Finance Bank. Of course urban migration cannot be attractive in a state like Kano. It is a sharp contrast in certain states where even “elected” councillors operate from the state capital.
To be financially responsible, a leader ought to keep to the provisions of an approved budget. There ought not to be bogus spending. The practice of succumbing to local pressures and the emotions of the moment to make donations that are not captured in the budget is irresponsible. It is worse when a political leader engages in governance by publicity and spends more funds publicizing a project than the cost of executing the project. One benefit of following the example of Kano is that it can help to reverse the trend in Nigeria where some poor states are doing better than some of the wealthier states.